By Joe Gardyasz


Skilled Iowa, an initiative to prepare more workers to fill middle-skills jobs in Iowa has made "tremendous strides" in the past year, but more work needs to be done to address the state's skills gap, says the head of Iowa Workforce Development.


According to a new report released Monday by Iowa Workforce Development, the demand for middle-skills jobs will remain strong in Iowa through the next decade as Baby Boomers continue to retire. The report, "Middle Skill Jobs in Iowa," estimates that more than half the new job openings in the state through 2020 will be in middle-skills jobs, defined as those requiring some training past high school but less than a bachelor's degree.


Fifty-six percent of the jobs in Iowa are considered middle-skill, while only 33 percent of workers possess those skills, making it difficult for many employers to fill these positions, according to the report.


Since the Skilled Iowa initiative was launched in the summer of 2012, more than 6,500 businesses have signed on in support and more than 27,000 residents have certified their skills sets through the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) program, IWD Director Teresa Wahlert said in a release. The program also seeks to certify communities across the state as Skilled Iowa Communities.


Using the NCRC, employers can measure and benchmark the skills of their employees and applicants, and individuals can document their skills and earn credentials. The program is a partnership between the state's community colleges and ACT Inc.


As the Skilled Iowa initiative enters its second year, it will further focus efforts on connecting high school students with growth industries in Iowa, Wahlert said. To date, the initiative has provided access to NCRC testing to all high schools in the state, and high schools across the state have held testing events.


"Our students are critical to tomorrow's workforce," Wahlert said. "By embedding the work critical skills of applied mathematics, reading for information and locating information into the high schools, our students are receiving a sound platform to begin further education and employment."


According to the Skilled Iowa report, some of the middle-skills career areas with 200 or more annual openings can be found in the office and administrative support, construction and production occupations. Students seeking a middle-skills job that also has the largest number of expected number of openings in the next decade might consider becoming a registered nurse; that field is expected to grow by 2.4 percent annually to more than 40,000 positions in Iowa by 2020.